Ontario’s rent supplement program to change
TheStar.com – Ontario
Published On Wed Sep 15 2010. Laurie MonsebraatenSocial Justice Reporter
Ontario is quietly tweaking its $185 million rent supplement program for low-income families because not enough people signed up for the 2007 initiative, the Star has learned.
The program, called ROOF (Rental Opportunity for Ontario Families), was aimed at helping 27,000 low-income working families with children. But just $135 million has been spent and only 21,500 families have signed up for the $100-a-month benefit, a housing ministry spokesperson said.
The remaining $50 million will be spent on a new program that will allow monthly benefits of up to $300 and serve a broader range of vulnerable people, said MPP Donna Cansfield (Etobicoke Centre).
Municipalities, which will have the opportunity to administer the new three-year initiative, are getting the details this week, said Cansfield, who is Parliamentary Secretary to Housing Minister Rick Bartolucci.
No formal announcement is being made because the program does not involve new money, ministry officials said.
Toronto’s total share of the reallocated money is $21.6 million; Peel is getting $2.9 million; York will get $1.2 million and Durham’s share is $1.1 million. The rest of the money will be distributed throughout the province.
Municipalities will have the flexibility to allocate the rent supplements to best meet the needs of their communities, Cansfield said.
“This is a good news story,” Cansfield said. “It speaks to an issue that concerns all of us and is something we were able to do.”
About 142,000 Ontario households are on affordable housing waiting lists, including almost 75,000 in Toronto in August.
The ROOF program was widely criticized by housing activists for being too restrictive. Only families with children under 18 with net incomes of $20,000 or less could apply. Pensioners, those on social assistance, singles, childless couples or parents with adult children were not eligible. And a $100-a-month supplement was not seen as sufficient to make average rents of $1,134 for a two-bedroom apartment in cities like Toronto affordable for working poor families.
Last month, Toronto’s Interval House shelter asked Queen’s Park to fund a two-year pilot project that would provide rent supplements of up to $450 a month for women and their children fleeing domestic violence
Under the $577,500 proposal, up to 50 families would be helped for two years. The initiative would free up desperately needed shelter beds and ease affordable housing waiting lists. Under provincial rules, women fleeing violence get priority for vacant units.
Cansfield said she hopes the Interval House proposal is something Toronto will consider.
“This is an area of huge need and a clear priority for this government,” she said in an interview.
Phil Brown, Toronto’s general manager of shelter, support and housing said he welcomes the flexibility of the new rent supplement program and will consider using some of the money to help victims of domestic violence.
“We are pleased to get the additional funding,” he said Wednesday. “But we would really like to see sustainable increased funding for rent supplements as a flagship component of the province’s new long-term affordable housing strategy” expected this fall.
Toronto’s 10-year affordable housing plan aims to help almost 260,000 households, including 70,000 through a new rent supplement scheme.
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